- Sadhguru, Founder, Isha Foundation, India, reflects on the need to re-engineer ideas about well-being and curtail consumption to avoid its costs.
- To prevent a food crisis, agricultural processes must take care to enrich the earth's soil.
- This interview served as input for The Great Narrative, a new book by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret.
Sadhguru, Founder, Isha Foundation, India, has been described as a yogi, mystic, environmentalist and many other things, but he takes on board a particularly humble simile as a worm, describing how he is hypersensitive to the world around him.
Through his insights, he reflects how short-term and individualistic thinking is ruining the planet for future generations.
The below interview with Sadhguru, Founder, Isha Foundation, India, served as one of 50 inputs from global thought leaders for The Great Narrative, the new book by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret that describes how we can create a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future post-COVID-19.
Is there anything personal you’d like to share about yourself that we won’t find on the web?
People think I’m a yogi, a mystic, an environmentalist, a motorcyclist and a pilot. They think I’m so many things. Essentially, I’m like a basic form of life – a worm on the planet, where I know what happens to me, just as a worm is sensitive about things happening around it. A worm probably knows more about soil and climate than the PhDs on the planet. My life is not about education or scholarship; it’s about experience gleaned from the world and experience from delving deep into myself, and these are the only two things I have.
I’ve paid attention to the world and this life in a way very few people would because, for most people, these things aren’t worthwhile enough to pay attention to. They’ve found something else of interest. But when I’ve paid attention to this life, this is the most fantastic mechanism – the human mechanism – and I’ve paid enormous attention to it. So, I think worms and insects know more about themselves than human beings. In that context, you can say, I’m a worm on the planet.
Beyond individual ideas
You’re a worm that has been doing many things and inspiring millions of people around the world. If you had to define your main idea, what would it be?
I don’t think we must infest the world with our ideas. Life is a phenomenon. How can we see that this phenomenon doesn’t go wrong and that it works best for all people? My idea, your idea or someone else’s idea, as they get concrete, they become philosophies. The philosophies then become ideologies and those become belief systems and religions that have all caused immense damage to life – maximum violence, bloodshed and the ripping of the planet.
So, I really don’t have any idea. I’m a worm in service of life.
You said you’re a yogi and a mystic. Many people would regard you as a philosopher. You’re not a philosopher?
No, definitely not. I don’t have any philosophies. The word “yoga” means union, and a yogi is one who has experienced it. What does union mean? The idea of being an individual is a psychological problem. You can’t exist without transacting through respiration, and various biochemical processes and subatomic particles are in contact with everything, so your happening is part of the larger phenomenon of life. But the magnanimity of creation has given us an individual experience.
We can sit here and wonder what creation is, which is a great privilege. But unfortunately, it’s when humans take this privilege literally – as an individual per se – that’s where the trouble starts. Most people don’t realise they’re part of this world, part of creation until you bury them. When you do that, everyone understands they’re part of the soil but when they stand on it, they have no clue that they’re part of everything else. They think they’re a world by themselves. This is my world versus your world, me being a world myself and you being one by yourself, and every individual trying to be a world by themselves. This is the basis of all problems. This idea of the individual has been taken too seriously.
When you look at the world, not only your own country, India, but the world at large, what do you see in the coming years?
Our idea of well-being, good life and success, has to be re-engineered. If we don’t transform these ideas into a more sensible idea of what well-being is, if we don’t invest in this, our very success will be a disaster. There’s a parable in India: a man is chopping the branch of a tree and sitting on the wrong end of the branch; when he succeeds, he’ll fall. Right now, we’re in this mode simply because our ideas of success, well-being and a good life are so convoluted that it’s always about being better than someone else. We’re driving ourselves towards a disaster.
The most important thing in the world for this generation and future generations is that our idea for a good life has to be recrafted and re-engineered. What is considered a good life right now is a disastrous process – a spirited drive in this direction will be a calamity.
Does this mean we need to abandon this obsession with materialism and consumerism that has engulfed the Western world and replicated in many other countries around the world? Do you think we’re conscious of this necessity to change and adapt?
A small percentage are thinking that way, but a larger percentage kept deprived for a long time are now surging ahead. Our idea of a good life is the US. The Living Planet statistics say that if the 7.6 or 7.8 billion people on the planet should have the things that an average American citizen has, then we’ll need four and a half planets. But we only have one-half of the earth left. It’s not sensible to go that way. This is where the responsibility of the Western nations is very big. They need to set up a new idea of success and well-being. A few of them are trying, but largely it’s going in the reverse direction.
Businesses won’t allow you to change the idea of well-being or a good life because they’re built on more consumption. So, we need to recraft our economic engine so that it chugs at a certain speed and brings well-being to everyone, rather than racing ahead into outer space for a few minutes to picnic. We’re in this kind of excessive mode. It’s alright if four people went and came back on an adventure, that’s great. But what if tomorrow millions of people start going; what’s the cost of that, not just the economic cost but the other costs?
While talking about selling cars with fewer emissions, people now talk about the fireball and explosion when the [rocket] took off, taking four people for a picnic and having a bit of weightlessness. All they would have to do is eat less and jog more and the weightlessness will come.
How can your practice as a yogi help us reinvent this idea of well-being and be less driven by materialist aspirations and more by spiritual considerations?
What are we pursuing right now? Human pursuit is in terms of their well-being. When survival is a question, it’s a big issue. Once it’s settled, we want happiness, joy, love and a pleasant experience. In pursuit of that, we’re ripping the planet apart. But human experience happens from within – pain, agony and ecstasy come from within us. When every human experience is manufactured within us, why do we dig up the world to be happy if we’re joyful people? The biggest problem is that human beings are not naturally joyful like when they were children.
At square one of our lives, everyone is peaceful and joyful and, as our intelligence grows, they become miserable. I thought intelligence was the solution, but somehow people are trying to prove intelligence is the biggest problem. You can call it stress, tension, anxiety, madness, whatever. It’s your intelligence turning against you. When your intelligence turns against you, you can turn the planet upside down, but you won’t solve your problems.
Human beings have become miserable, not because life around us is bad but because our education systems and social structures have not taught people how to manage their own faculties, minds, memory, or imagination. They’re always suffering from one thing or another. In childhood, there’s an infancy problem, you can’t walk; if you’re a toddler, you have a diaper problem; if you’re an adolescent, you have a hormonal problem; if you’re middle-aged, it’s a crisis; and old age is horrendous – there’s no end to this.
At any time, people have their own problems. Every stage of life has been labelled a problem, not because life is a problem, but simply because our educational systems and social structures aren’t providing clues about how to manage this. We’re interested in exploiting another planet, but we’re not interested in how to take charge of this one (indicating oneself).
Right now, our faculties are suffering; we’re not suffering the outside world. All these never-before comforts have been created for this generation, but still, we’re suffering because our own intelligence pokes and stabs us every day from the inside. You don’t need anyone’s company; nobody needs to torture you – you can go on creating misery within yourself on your own. I understand that 700,000 people have committed suicide this year. It’s happening because suicide is the ultimate manifestation of our intelligence turning against us.
The first and foremost thing that must happen to humans is that if you sit here, you’re blissed out by your own nature. This must happen. If it does, what you do in the world won’t be compulsive. Right now, everyone is in the compulsive mode, so there’s endless exploitation because we’re trying to milk happiness from the world. It’s like a potato farmer going to an apple tree and, instead of looking up, he starts to dig up the ground. All that will happen is that the apples won’t be produced, as they won’t grow underground. And if you dig up the ground, you’ll uproot the tree. But the apples won’t come to you; you need to look up for the apples.
It’s the same for humans: if you want joy, peace, health, ecstasy and blissfulness, you must turn inward. Right now, you’re trying to squeeze it from the outside world. You can call this materialism, but it’s a misdirected missile.
The problem is in agriculture
So, the solution lies within each of us. But from a policy perspective, what major change should happen to make the world a better place?
As the world has become largely democratic, policies are made to make people happy because if they aren’t happy, they won’t elect the politicians and their terms are only four to five administrative years. So, policies are made because it pleases people and serve the purpose of the terms. It’s been hugely damaging for the world because everyone is interested in short-term goals, whether it’s a company or a government. No one thinks long-term enough because they don’t want to think beyond their term, but we need awareness of this in the world.
The electorate needs to say what they want. We’re looking to create this with the Conscious Planet movement, in which we’re trying to move 60% of the world’s electorate or over 3 billion people (5.62 billion have the franchise in their hands) to elect governments. We’re trying to move them but with one cause, because saying 10 things won’t be understood.
Famines have taken millions of people’s lives in many nations, especially in India and China, and even in Europe at some points in time. Today, food is better organized. It can be moved from anywhere to anywhere. So, famines no longer happen as we’ve taken charge of the agricultural process, but at a high cost to the soil. Nearly 60% of Indian soil has less than 0.5% organic content; a minimum of 3% to 6% of organic content is needed for agricultural soil. Forests have an organic content of 70%. That’s how soil should be. The word “human” comes from the Latin humus, which means rich, living soil, because our body is the very soil we walk upon.
So, saving soil is just saving the very soil that we are. The UN is saying we have enough soil for a maximum of 80 to 100 crops on the planet. That means in 45-60 years, we’ll hit a food crisis. I met a man who’s growing turnips on a wall in his house. It’s wonderful that he’s doing this, but why doesn’t he pluck them? He said he wouldn’t because people are coming to see them, so it’s good for show. But without enriching the soil, there’s no other way.
I’m looking at how to change the policy on the planet of all the 192 democratic countries at least, how to change the policy, how to make some simple rules so that those who own agricultural land maintain a certain level of organic content. I’m not talking about organic farming – they can do what they want. But the soil should be rich. We use it now and the next generation will need it in the future. They’re not going to the moon or Mars; they’ll be living here, too.
It’s extremely important that we leave the soil at least reasonably rich. We won’t leave it as it was given to us because the damage has been extensive. The desertification of the planet is a serious question because our very bodies are soil. After the ocean, the biggest carbon sink in the world is soil, and the greatest water soak is soil. If soil is in good condition, the amount of carbon it can absorb and recycle through the vegetative process is enormous. We must put a substantial part of the world, particularly the tropics, under shade.
Currently, we’re talking about global warming, and I’ve been saying this for the last 22 years: when global warming happens, southern India will benefit. People didn’t believe me but ask them to look at the amount of copious rain we’re receiving today. Whatever used to be summer is almost gone for us. Through the summer, it rains, and if the climate warms by 1.5° C, millions or billions of tons of water will evaporate. Where will it go?
It’s in the atmosphere, and peninsulas and islands will benefit from that but, for the northern part of the planet, what was coming down as snow will start to fall as rain and there will be humongous disasters, such as the unheard-of floods in New York City. For all this, everyone thinks there are carbon emissions and coal burning, but the most important thing is that if there is tree cover on the soil, global warming will not continue at its current pace.
So, it’s about agriculture and regenerating the soil?
The problem is that we’re always focused on the industrial problem, but industry can be fixed very easily with proper regulation and enforcement.
Agriculture occupies nearly 60% of the world’s land. That’s where the problem is, though the escape for agriculture has always been that they’re poor people and that you can’t touch them. This is why we’ve come up with a methodology implemented in the last 20 years, benefiting over 100,000 farmers. We’ve married ecology and economy in a certain way that, through economic activity, the ecological significance of the soil will increase. In many ways, there’s a lot of ecological benefits and economic improvement. Farmers are earning many-fold over, and soil richness is improving at the same time.
They’re adding more humus to the soil every year. This needs to happen around the globe, particularly in the tropical world. That’s where when sunlight falls on the ground, and it falls on open ploughed soil – this is a sure way to kill all the biodiversity. In fact, 80% of the biomass insects have disappeared over the last 30 years. We’re trying to make soil go extinct – if there’s no biomass in it, it’s as good as sand.
What are you optimistic about?
I’m optimistic about human beings. While they’re the only problem on the planet, we can turn them around because we’re invested with a certain amount of intelligence. Never before was it possible to sit here and talk to the world. Many great beings have come on this planet, but when they’ve spoken, hardly 10 people have heard them. Currently, we have technologies allowing us to sit here and talk to the entire world. When such technologies and tools are at hand, it’s time to transform humanity. If we don’t do that, it simply means we don’t care.
Our organization’s video views last year totalled 1.82 billion. If all of us try with the tools at hand, we can educate every human being. It’s the best time to do it. We have the technology and the means. Do we have the necessary commitment and courage to fulfill this in our lifetime? This is a generational responsibility that we must fulfill. Let us make it happen!
This interview served as input for The Great Narrative, the new book by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret that encapsulates the Davos Vision, and explores how we can shape a constructive, common narrative for the future.